EU declares Hezbollah's military wing a terror group

BRUSSELS The European Union placed the military wing of the Lebanese party Hezbollah on its terror list on Monday in a major change of its policy toward the region.

The EU's 28 foreign ministers reached the decision unanimously at their monthly meeting, swiftly swaying the last nations that had any doubts.

It came after prolonged diplomatic pressure from Washington and Israel, who both consider Hezbollah a terrorist organization.

The blacklisting would mean imposing visa bans on individuals and asset freezes on organizations associated with the group.

"It is good that the EU has decided to call Hezbollah what it is: a terrorist organization," said Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans.

"I'm satisfied that we took this important step today, by dealing with the military wing of Hezbollah, freezing its assets, hindering its fundraising and thereby limiting its capacity to act," Timmermans said.

But the implementation would be complicated since officials would have to unravel the links between the different wings within Hezbollah's organizational network and see who could be targeted for belonging to the military wing.

It could take up to two weeks before names of individuals and organizations are added to the list, officials said.

The Iranian-backed group plays a pivotal role in Lebanese politics, dominating the government since 2011, and has since sent its members to bolster Syria's President Bashar Assad forces in their assault of rebel-held areas.

Hezbollah officials in Beirut declined to immediately comment on the EU decision but in a May speech Hezbollah chief Sheik Hassan Nasrallah had said any such move would be no more than "ink on paper."

Israel welcomed the decision. It fought a bitter month-long war with Hezbollah in 2006 and does not differentiate between the groups political and military wings. Israel has accused Hezbollah of carrying out attacks on Jewish and Israeli targets around the world. Hezbollah has denied involvement in some and not commented on others.

"Finally, after years of deliberations, the claim that Hezbollah is a legitimate political party has rightfully failed," said Israel's Justice Minister Tzipi Livni. "Now it is clear to the entire world that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization".

Earlier this year, the group was accused of involvement in last year's attack in the Black Sea resort of Burgas in Bulgaria, which killed five Israeli tourists and one Bulgarian. It has refuted that allegation.

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